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Oregon is a big state.  The 9th biggest in the country.  It has 36 counties, and some of them are quite large as well, particularly in eastern and southern Oregon.  However, not many people live there, and so those regions have a disproportionately smaller impact on election results in the state.

For example, the 10 counties that voted for Obama in 2012 cast over 61% of the votes in the whole state, despite being only 10 of 36 counties. In fact, the 7 most populous counties in the state cast over 70% of all of the votes in the state. That population concentration has grown over the years, and it should scare Republicans. Obama may have won only 4 of those 7 most populous counties in 2012, but he won 6 of the 7 in 2008. None of them have shown a long-term Republican trend, but many are becoming more Democratic.

They are also becoming a larger share of the vote. The counties Obama won in 2012 cast only 59.7% of the statewide vote in 1996, but 61.3% in 2012. The 7 largest counties only cast 68.4% of the vote in 1996, but 70.6% in 2012.

Lets look at the different regions across Oregon.

The Coast
The region as I'm considering it is comprised of Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties. Parts are in Douglas and Lane counties, but only small parts. Those counties are dominated by inland areas. Each of those counties, including Lane and Douglas, showed some overall loss in their shares of the statewide vote from 1996 to 2012. Below is each county's share as a percentage of the vote in general elections. I have looked at every general election and primary from 1996 and 1998 to 2012, but will just summarize my findings.

In 1996 these 5 counties voted about 1.4% more Democratic than the nation as a whole. In 2012 they voted about 0.3% more Democratic than the nation as a whole. There has been some decline in Democratic performance overall, but as you can see it has been slow. Despite this, Clatsop and Lincoln are still reliably Democratic, Tillamook usually votes Democratic, and Coos votes for Peter DeFazio for Congress and most of it for Democrats for the legislature. And as the region becomes less Democratic, though, it's casting less of the vote in the state.

During this period the region's share of the vote in statewide Democratic presidential primaries has declined as well, from about 7% in 2000 to around 6% in 2012. The share in Republican primaries declined from 6.5% until 2012, when it actually increased to 6.6%. In midterm elections the Coast makes a little more of the vote in primaries possibly because the region is older and whiter than many inland regions, and those demographics commonly lead to more consistent turnout.

Coos County in particular over the period I was looking at was obviously a larger share of the vote in primaries, but also it was obvious that it was becoming less of a force in Democratic primaries, and more of one in Republican primaries. Starting out with more than 2% of the statewide Democratic primary vote, that dropped below 2%, and the opposite happened in Republican primaries.

Southern Oregon
Southern Oregon as I'm assessing it is Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties. Aside from Obama narrowly winning Jackson County in 2008, outside of Ashland and some parts of southern Josephine and Jackson counties this region is strongly Republican. Despite substantial population growth in Jackson County during the past decade, this region's overall share of the vote declined between 1996 and 2012.

Jackson County's share over that period grew up until about 2004, then declined again to the point where it roughly was where it was in 1996. Josephine County's share was relatively stable. The real decline was in Douglas County.
What left me thinking about the region was that I have tended to think about Douglas County as trending Republican, Jackson slightly Democratic, and Josephine being pretty stable and deeply Republican, but after looking at Clinton's performance versus Obama's, I've had to rethink that. In 1996 this region voted about 11 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, whereas in 2012 it voted a bit over 9 points more Republican than the nation. When one of the biggest Republican leaning regions in the state is getting less Republican, they should be worried.

The region's importance in Democratic primaries has slightly but steadily declined as many of the other regions have outpaced them. In 2000 it was about 9.8% of the Democratic primary vote, and in 2012 it was about 8.6% of the statewide vote. In Republican primaries it was more of a force, and despite fluctuating over time was about the same in 2000 and 2012, at about 14.5% of the statewide vote.

Eastern Oregon

I'm aggregating what are really several different sub-regions into a larger Eastern Oregon region: basically everything east of the Cascade mountain range, from Hood River down to Klamath Falls and everything east. This'll become problematic when looking at overall trends, but I'll clarify where it needs it.

Hood River County, home of the region's congressman Greg Walden, was one of Obama best counties in the whole state in both 2008 and 2012, and in general is the only county in the region to lean Democratic. Neighboring Wasco County can be swingy, as Obama won it in 2008 but lost it in 2012 by only about 18 votes. The rest of the Columbia River area is ancestrally Democratic, and I think Gilliam County voted for Ron Wyden in 2010.  Deschutes County in Central Oregon is not terribly Republican, and helpfully it is the largest population center in the region. Bend, the largest city in the region, is also there. The rest of the region is extremely Republican, and sparsely populated. Most don't have 1% of the statewide vote; a few don't even have a tenth of a percent of the statewide vote.

As you can see it was above 12% of the statewide vote in 1996, and that grew to nearly 13% in 2012. This slow overall growth masks that if one looks closer, one can see that in truth only the three counties in Central Oregon showed consistent growth over the period. Outside of these 3, Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes counties, a few were stable, but most declined as a share of the statewide vote. In fact, if one takes those counties out, the rest of the east was about 8% of the vote in 1996, and dropped to about 7% by 2012.

Looking at primary elections as the region has trended Republican overall it has become more important in Republican primaries and less so in Democratic ones. From 2000 to 2012 it declined from 10.75% of the vote in Democratic primaries to only about 8.5% of the vote. In the same period it increased from about 15.7% of the vote to 20.7% in Republican primaries. Surprisingly, while in midterm Democratic primaries this region had higher turnout overall than in presidential years, in Republican primaries it was the opposite.  This region has become much more important to Republican candidates running statewide, as it has become more Republican and the rest of the state has become less.

The Upper Willamette Valley
At the southern end of the Willamette Valley are Lane, Benton, and Linn counties, with the Corvallis-Albany and Eugene-Springfield areas, this region also has two of Oregon's three biggest universities: the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. Lane and Benton counties are two of the most Democratic in the state, with Lane and Eugene in particular being a large Democratic stronghold, but Benton with Corvallis has become increasingly progressive in recent years: only it and Multnomah counties voted against the ban on gay marriage in 2004, in all of the state. Lane voted for it by less than 100 votes. Linn, though, with Albany, leans Republican.

As you can see Benton County has been very stable in its share of the statewide vote, and Linn has been more or less, but Lane's declining share has driven the region as a whole to decline a bit. Still, this is the largest region we've looked at so far, and the largest outside of the Portland metro region. Benton and Linn have tended to have slightly better turnout in midterms relative to the rest of the state, but Lane does better in presidential elections. That's probably because of the large and progressive student population at UO.

In primaries the region is worth a bit more in the Democratic primaries, but not by much. Benton County rose during the period I looked at from about 2.4% to 3% of the statewide vote in Democratic primaries, while Linn dropped from about 3% to below 2%. Linn remained pretty stable at somewhere around 11.5%, but both Lane and Benton turned out a bit more in presidential year primaries than midterm, while Linn began to perform better in midterms as the period went on.

In Republican primaries the region has remained pretty stable, but counts a bit less. Lane County is worth 8-9%, Linn has increased a little from under 3% to above it, and Benton is worth around 2%. Benton and Linn counties have better turnout in midterm primaries and Lane in presidential primaries.

While the region's importance has slightly declined, it is still the second largest in votes in the state. And while it has declined slightly, it has gotten more Democratic. In 1996 the region was about 2 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. In 2012 it was 6.7 points more Democratic than the state as a whole.

The Mid Willamette Valley
Heading north up the valley, before we get to the Portland area we go through Salem and the Mid Willamette region, including Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties. The region as a whole and individually each county leans Republican by a few points, but seems to be trending Democratic. In 2006 and 2008 Kulongoski and Obama won Marion County, the largest here, while in 2006 Kulongoski lost Polk by a mere 23 votes and in 2008 Obama came within a couple points in both Polk and Yamhill. In 2010 and 2012, though, Republicans carried the day here.

The big story here is that while Polk and Yamhill are slowly growing, Marion County has seen its share of the statewide vote in an obvious decline. Where in some of the other counties we've looked at this has been somewhat because of an outright population decline or stagnation, in Marion it isn't likely that. What has been changing is that Marion County is now well over 20% Hispanic and that part of the population is growing, while the white population has barely increased. Hispanics have lower turnout generally than whites, and so while the population is increasing, the share of the statewide vote has declined.

In Democratic primaries the decline has been evident as well, as the region has gone from greater than 10% of the vote to less than 9%, and it has been entirely from Marion County. Polk and Yamhill have seen increases while Marion County's share has declined from 6.7% to a 5.1% of the statewide vote in Democratic primaries.

In Republican primaries all of the counties have been exhibiting the same kind of behavior, and the overall result has been a decline from 13.2% to 12.4% of the statewide vote from 2000-2012.

The region has slightly improved for Democrats. While in 1996 it voted nearly 4.5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, in 2012 it was only about 4 points more Republican. In that time many of the cities have trended Democratic.

The Portland Metropolitan Area

We've gone through all but one region and still have more than 40% of the statewide vote left! The Portland metro area doesn't quite dominate the rest of the state in elections, but it commands a clear and large plurality of the votes. The four remaining counties I'm including are Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, and Washington.

Portland and its suburbs already were by far the biggest region of the state in 1996, and they have only increased their importance in statewide elections. None of the counties have shown any kind of decline, as Washington County has shown robust, consistent growth and Multnomah has increased its share as well, now composing over a fifth of the statewide vote alone. Multnomah alone, or Clackamas and Washington counties combined, provide more votes than any of the other regions of the state, and in fact more than some combined.

In the primaries the region is also of prime importance. In the Democratic primary in 2000 the region provided over 45% of the votes, but by 2012 it was over half. In fact, probably driven by a heated mayoral primary in Portland, Multnomah County alone provided a staggering 30% of the vote in the 2012 Democratic primary. Meanwhile in the period I was looking at Washington County came from behind to now match Lane County in its share of the vote in Democratic primaries in midterm elections, while Lane still slightly had more in 2012.

In Republican primaries the region is still the largest, but its not determinative, and actually declining in importance. In 2000 it provided over 35% of the vote in the Republican primary, but by 2012 barely over 31%.

Those numbers would lead one to believe the region has become more Democratic, and one would be right. In 1996 the Portland metro area voted about 6 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole, but in 2012 that had increased to nearly 14 points.


 photo countyshareofstatewidevote_zps1151cf7a.jpg
A rough approximation of regional shares of the statewide vote

A map of the state adjusted for its share of the population or vote does not look too familiar. Oregon has a lot of sparsely populated territory, which is part of what makes the state so wonderful. Most of the population lives in Western Oregon; in fact, most lives in just the Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley as a whole voted over 61.5% for Barack Obama in 2012, and comprised over 71% of the statewide vote, and it seems to be still getting more Democratic while also increasing its share of the vote.

Things look poor for Republicans. Of the regions in the state only Eastern Oregon is both growing and getting more Republican. The Coast is slowly trending Republican, but also is shrinking and already is the smallest region. The only other two Republican leaning regions are the Mid Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon, both of which appear to be trending Democratic, and also are not increasing their share of the vote.

The Republican Party in Oregon is on a to irrelevancy as it depends more and more on regions of the state that are not determinative in elections, and has less and less of a presence in the western half of the state where the vast majority of Oregonians live and vote. Even the big Republican counties, Deschutes, Jackson, and Marion are not doing enough for them. In 1996 together they voted about 6 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, but in 2012 only about 4 points more Republican. Life will not get any easier for them until things fundamentally change.

Originally posted to James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 11:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by PDX Metro, Daily Kos Oregon, and Koscadia.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (25+ / 0-)

    ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

    by James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 11:50:19 AM PDT

  •  Curry and Lane. Same CD. Lived in both. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen, peachcreek

    I intend to return to Oregon.

  •  Recommended for the title alone (5+ / 0-)

    The reference, of course, is to Reynolds v. Sims: "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests." 377 U.S. 533 (1964)

    Just so. (Abolish the Senate!)

    On the substance I cannot add much, not knowing Oregon well. But I commend your distinguishing between the weight of an area in a general election and in any particular primary. It's something people can overlook.

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:05:59 PM PDT

    •  I thought about adding this to the diary (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      andgarden, SaoMagnifico, jncca

      but then decided not to make a lot more maps. This is actually a map of resized counties according to their share in a Democratic primary:

       photo demprimary2010_zps220dd1d7.png

      You can really appreciate how little a lot of counties count for.

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:40:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I actually lived in Gilliam County (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen

    Which, by the way, they pronounce "Gillum." Linus Pauling grew up there (in Condon), so I think I'll go pop a vitamin C in his honor. (I actually got to see him speak at a nuclear freeze event in Salem during the Reagan years.)

    I lived in the other "major" town in Gilliam County--Arlington, though before it took on the business of landfilling all of Portland and Seattle's garbage. But hey, don't mock a source of good jobs--and garbage does have to go somewhere.

    Now, if you drive down I-84 you will see the marching armies of three-armed windmills . . . get up close to them just to see how freaking huge those are!

    And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

    by Pale Jenova on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:44:35 PM PDT

  •  "Pigs don't vote" read a sign (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen, gabjoh

    Along I-385 in Northern Iowa.  Probably because of all the give aways to hog farmers.

    Similar problem in Washington, 39 counties, majority of population lives in the 9 counties surrounding Puget Sound.  After the 2008 Governor election, some local DJ stated his newscast with "Dino Rossi won 30 counties..", as if winning Okanogan County by 1,000 votes offsets losing King County by 125,000 votes....

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 02:43:10 PM PDT

  •  Typo? (0+ / 0-)

    You wrote:

    Obama may have won only 4 of those 7 most populous counties in 2012, but he won 6 of the 7 in 2008.
    Shouldn't that be:
    Obama may have won only 4 of those 7 most populous counties in 2008, but he won 6 of the 7 in 2012.
    I don't know the data, but that makes more sense to your argument about changing demographics...

    History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

    by quill on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 02:51:07 PM PDT

    •  nope (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, SaoMagnifico

      he did better in 2008 than 2012. He won 13 counties in 2008, but only 10 in 2012. He only lost Deschutes County of those 7 in 2008, but he lost Marion and Jackson in 2012 as well. From 2008 obviously there was a decline, but compared to previous elections, and compared to the nation as a whole, those areas are getting more Democratic.

      In 2008 those counties were only about 3 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, but in 2004 they were almost 5 points more Republican, and in 1996 they were 6 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.

      If you look at voter registration trends from 2001-2012, these counties also exhibit a slow Democratic trend:

       photo 2001-2012voterregistrationtrend.png

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 03:21:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We live in Ashland and feel like we are held (0+ / 0-)

    hostage by herds of cattle and rattle snakes

  •  Awesome job on this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen

    It backs up many of my conclusions about Oregon's political evolution as well.

    Personally, I consider Hood River County more politically, geologically, ecologically, and economically tied in to western Oregon than to eastern, but that's something people tend to disagree on (Hood River itself is much closer to The Dalles than it is to Portland, of course). But that's a minor quibble; after all, subtract Hood River County and your finding that eastern Oregon is the only region of the state that's getting redder is actually bolstered.

    Unless Bend booms without getting bluer (unlikely), it seems like the East just won't be able to do anything about Oregon's increasingly Democratic direction.

    •  Columbia and Hood River County (0+ / 0-)

      are both hard to categorize, maybe Klamath too. Columbia has a few communities on the fringe of the metro area, and some which are more part of the coast range, but I can't really put a county that isn't on the coast in the coast region, can I?

      Hood River is really in between. It's not really much east or west, its north of the mountains.

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 06:03:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  yes, awesome job, James Allen (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen

    I live in Linn County, outside Brownsville. You really are spot on with your analysis.
    Re: Linn County: one of the reasons I enjoy living where I do is EVERY person I can vote for in a partisan office---from lowest state rep to President---is a DEMOCRAT!
    (The other Congressman who shares this county Schrader, is also a Democrat) I don't know how the state jurisdictions run but my state reps are Barnhart and Lively.
    So Linn County may "lean red" but there's a significant patch of blue here and there.

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 04:37:24 PM PDT

    •  all of the parts in Barnhart's district are red (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      exlrrp, gabjoh

      the only blueish parts are northeast in the mountains, and parts of Albany. Really. I'll address that in a future diary, though. The way the districts are drawn are really beneficial to the few Dems who do live there, though.

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 06:05:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I guess people just like Barnhart bipartisanly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        James Allen

        Ive talked to him a few times at town meeting, he's a good man. Just saw him in our Pioneer Day PArade, he seemed popular
        Ive met or shook hands with almost all the  politicians on my list, Oregon's that kind of state:  Barnhart, De Fazio,(Schrader, too) Kitshaber, Merkley, Wyden. It sure helps all these people are Dems. I met most of these people at the Albany Veterans Day PArade, which I go to every year. Largest Veterans day parade west of the Mississippi

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 07:14:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Is there any state... (0+ / 0-)

    Which is reversed? where in either 2008 or 2012 where Obama won a majority of the Counties in the State and lost the state overall?

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